Eli's logoI’m in heaven! The last time I had a really good cheesecake was before 2004, before I was vegan. Sure, I’ve tried a few at various restaurants and you know what? They really didn’t cut it for me. But that’s all changed now.

This week, Chicago’s own cheesecake darling, Eli’s, with their 39-year experience with cheesecakes, created the first seriously good vegan options for retail and they’re also launching a food service version for restaurants at the National Restaurant Association show next week.

photo of both cakes

Both desserts include a moist vegan cake layer under the cheesecake layer. The Belgian chocolate is very rich and would pair really well with almost any fruit topping, fresh fruit, or even a dollop of coconut cream. You could really build a lot of interesting platings with the chocolate. The carrot cake is very well thought out and even has a dusting of grated lemon rind on top. The addition of the lemon creates a very fresh flavor and the cake layer itself would be considered mild if you prefer your carrot cake with lots of spices. There are folks on either side of the carrot cake spice level debate and I could see easily garnishing this cake with candied or spiced pecans.

Two important points to this awesome news:

  1. Eli’s is not afraid to use the word “vegan” instead of safer phrases like “dairy-free” and the like. They feel so strongly about serving the vegan market, they aren’t being shy. In fact, these cakes are even certified by the Vegan Awareness Foundation.
  2. And this is a big one for me personally, they are NOT launching with vanilla! They dove into the deep end with Belgian chocolate and carrot cake flavors. Big kudos for those choices!

When Great Minds Think Alike

When Bob Mariano from Mariano’s Market caught wind that Eli’s was making custom vegan desserts for Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill Clinton, he wanted in on the action. Mariano partnered with Eli’s to offer vegan cheesecakes to consumers looking for non-diary, healthier and cruelty-free ready-made desserts. Eli’s will eventually expand to more stores but for now, Mariano’s has an exclusive and are selling both flavors in all Mariano’s locations. Eli’s will also include them in their online store later this fall.

team

Chef’s Notes

I spoke with two Eli’s chefs at the press event and learned a lot about how they finally nailed the flavor profiles and what impacted various decisions. One of the big questions that vegans have been asking is why these cheesecakes are a combination of a bottom layer of cake with a cheesecake top layer. Sort of a 50/50 split between the two.

The story goes something like this: they started out working on a solid cheesecake from top to crust but then began to wonder what type of dessert would they want to eat every day versus occasionally. The flavors and textures they were working with were so rich, they felt it may be better to launch with a dessert that would work every day, if someone (like me?) felt like it. I thought back to when I bought a slice of vegan cheesecake at Whole Foods and realized, they’re right. I couldn’t finish the whole slice and it really didn’t seem like bonafide cheesecake anyway.

This doesn’t mean they won’t create a 100% cheesecake in the future. They’ve got big vegan plans. BIG! They’re even working on some special seasonal flavors for 2015.

carrot cake photo

The carrot cake flavor has a cheesecake topping instead of the usual sour cream topping. Nuts and carrot shavings decorate the edge and the top is slightly dusted with grated lemon rind.

Hitting the Right Notes

The chefs also answered questions about how they arrived at incorporating a smidge of Daiya® cream cheese into the recipe. They tried various cheesecakes from restaurants and other vegan manufacturers but found that everything pretty much tasted the same. They were striving for something that was more authentic in texture and flavors. They also tried several brands of ready-made cream cheeses as well as other ingredients, searching for just the right amount of sour. It’s a challenge, evidently, to get something that’s not so sour that it overpowers sweet flavors like chocolate and carrot cake but also sour enough to have spunk.

Texture was another factor they had to perfect. And I can tell you that the Belgian chocolate flavor is perfectly smooth. The cheesecake on the carrot flavor was a little more sugary and less smooth but seemed appropriate to the carrot cake concept. I honestly had a difficult time choosing between the two. I almost bought one of each.

The tofu they use is from another local Chicago darling, Phoenix Bean. Phoenix provides Eli’s with a special batch of silky smooth tofu that lends the extra creamy texture to the cakes. Phoenix Bean’s artisan tofu is crafted by hand daily from locally farmed, single-source, non-GMO beans and they’re chemical and pesticide free.

chocolate cheesecake

The chocolate cheesecake is layered on top of a very dense and moist chocolate cake.

Vegan vs. Traditional Cheesecake

Just a few numbers comparing the health benefits of the new flavors:

Chocolate

  • 18% fewer calories
  • 38% less fat
  • 100% less cholesterol
  • 33% more iron

Carrot Cake

  • 14% fewer calories
  • 36% less fat
  • 100% less cholesterol
  • 42% less sodium
  • 50% more vitamin A

Vegan Certification

Eli’s chefs educated themselves about what constitutes vegan food and steered clear of sweeteners like honey and sugar bleached with bone char. One of their goals was to be certified so there was absolutely no question about any of the ingredients and they flaunt their certification proudly on the label design.

Where can you score?

Mariano’s Markets in the Chicagoland area sells whole cake only and they are located in the frozen cakes near the bakery. Use Mariano’s store finder to find a location near you. The cakes are sold frozen and Eli’s recommends you keep them frozen until needed. They also stated that you’ll get a cleaner slice if you slice while frozen.

If you only want a slice, you can stop by Eli’s Cheesecake Bakery Cafe.

Eli’s is also showcasing these new goodies for food service at next week’s National Restaurant Association show. I sure hope some of my favorite restaurants add these to their menus.

packgaing shot

Look for packages like these in the freezer case at Mariano’s Market.

Betcha can’t guess which one I bought for my birthday?

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite confections are from Allison’s Gourmet. Allison has mastered the art of making vegan caramels, brittle, toffee, truffles, cookies, fudge, bark candy and more. And you know how hard it is to find really great confectionary treats that are vegan, fair trade and organic. Yeah, there are a lot of chocolate bars in the stores but not a lot of gift-worthy, high-end goodies that you can be confident sending to loved ones or business associates while still being able to sleep at night.

Her treats are so good they’re our preferred holiday gift for clients 2 years running. And of course, they work for employee bonuses as well, not to mention Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc. And now you can enter to win a $20 gift certificate toward anything in Allison’s Gourmet Store. Yep, just read further.

The mastermind that is Allison.

If you haven’t heard about Allison’s Gourmet confections before, you may have seen Allison’s recipes in VegNews magazine. Same chic, same dogged dedication to veganizing great classics whether they’re for dinner or treats.

Gena at Choosing Raw wrote a great backgrounder on Allison and yeah, it totally makes me look like a lazy pixel pushing schmuck. But hey, if we don’t have people like Allison to look up to as heroes, we’d all just be a bunch of aimless mouse potatoes and then were would the world be?

Toffee, caramels, truffles, cookies, how will you choose?

My personal favorites always lean toward the caramels, toffees and brittle. She even has salted, salted chocolate, and chipotle caramels along with traditional vanilla. Lots of varieties of toffee and brittle too.

If you lust after chocolate truffles, Allison just launched a new palette of flavors this month! I did order a box for my own personal employee bonus this year and they are indeed silky, flavorful and very decadent.

And let’s not forget the cookies, brownies, fudge and other delectibles. We received a gift box of the cookies yesterday at work and I am totally hooked on the Butterscotch Pecan even though it was a limited edition. So the next time that flavor swings around on the seasonal schedule, be sure to snag some.

We have a winner! Congrats Meryl!

Random Number Generator select Meryl from among the entries submitted prior to 9am today, Chicago time (per the contest rules). Congratulations Meryl!

Is your mouth watering yet? So enter the contest already!

Allison is providing one lucky Snarky Vegan reader a $20 gift certificate for anything from her online store. I will announce the winner on December 23rd so you can choose to give the gift certificate as a stocking stuffer (printable pdf certificate), keep it for yourself or use it for New Years or some future special event.

I’ll make this very simple: you can enter up to 6 times in the pool to win a $20 gift certificate from Allison’s by leaving a separate comment for each of the following:

  1. Look through Allison’s Gourmet store and leave a comment with what you’d like to buy from her gourmet shop.
  2. Leave a second comment if you care to divulge how you intend to use the giveaway.
  3. Tweet about this giveaway using this bit: “Enter @SnarkyVegan’s contest to win a $20 gift certificate @allisonsgourmet for vegan truffles, toffee, caramels! http://wp.me/pdVnX-Dg”
  4. Either like Allison’s on Facebook or post about this giveaway on your wall: “Enter SnarkyVegan’s contest to win a $20 gift certificate @allisonsgourmet for vegan truffles, toffee, caramels! http://wp.me/pdVnX-Dg”
  5. Follow Allison’s on Twitter.
  6. Follow SnarkyVegan on Twitter.

Deadline for your comments is 9:00 am December 23, 2011. Drawing will be among comments left prior to 9:00 am CST (Chicago Standard Time ;-) I will send out the gift certificate immediately but you MUST ENTER WITH YOUR CORRECT EMAIL ADDRESS when leaving a comment.

US residents only, sorry.

Legal disclaimer: Yes, I know Allison, I order her goodies for our clients at work and no, she’s never given me anything for free or in return for my patronage. I just think she’s an awesome happy person whose groovy vibe rubs off on everyone she meets. And I’m a whore for supreme toffee to go with my single malt.

Behold! The gooey-est, yummiest, chocolaty-est yellow cake ever!

I don’t know about you but I LOVE that classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting! If the yellow cake has that old-fashioned caramel flavor, all the better. I will sniff this stuff out at a vegan pot luck, huff it till I sneeze chocolate then hoard it, if possible. Yes I will.

I also have an old-fashioned love for boxed cake mixes. And my favorite dairy-free cake mix brand—BAR NONE— is Cherrybrook Kitchen®. They make the best boxed yellow cake mix I’ve had, including the old Duncan Hines from my childhood.

I also like to dress up my cakes beyond just the basic box mix. In this yellow cake, I added chocolate chips for melty goodness and sprinkled pecans on the icing while it was melting on the hot cake. I didn’t mess with trying to make a multi-layer or bundt cake. I just created a simple 9×13 cake. To do this, you will need two of the cake mix boxes and one of the frosting box shown here:

SnarkyVegan’s Outrageously Gooey Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting and Doodads

Cake:

  • 2 boxes of Cherrybrook Kitchen® yellow cake mix
  • 2/3 cup melted margarine (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1  1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 to 3/4 bag of chocolate chips as your melty doodad (use however many you want)

Frosting:

  • 1 box Cherrybrook Kitchen® chocolate frosting mix
  • 1 cups of softened margarine (2 sticks)
  • 2 T. soy or rice milk

More Doodads:

  • 1 cup of chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. You can use a mixer like they say on the box but a spoon works just fine.
  3. Pour batter into casserole dish and smooth to corners.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. The box says 20 to 25 minutes but that’s for a small single layer. Since I used two boxes, it took a tad longer.
  5. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting by blending the frosting ingredients in a deep bowl on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape sides to get everything incorporated.
  6. Frost the cooled cake gently applying the frosting texture you want. If you like a more textured frosting, you can keep it in the fridge for a bit while the cake is cooling.
  7. Sprinkle lightly with chopped pecans.

What I did that wasn’t on the box: I wanted my frosting to be really melty and flat as if I poured it on so I applied the frosting while the cake was still very warm. I could see the frosting melting in the hot spots and it sort of smoothed out to a fairly even surface. Unfortunately, this meant I had to wait to cut it because all the frosting would run into the empty space left by the first piece. You have no idea how hard it was to wait.

NOTE: The box says not to use tub margarine and to not melt the margarine, only to soften the sticks at room temperature. I didn’t have any sticks so I went ahead and used Earth Balance tub margarine and it seemed to work just fine. Perhaps there are other margarines that don’t work well from the tub?

Cherrybrook Kitchen® also makes a ready-to-use vanilla frosting. But you’d be best not to waste time nor money on it cuz it sucks like Elmer’s glue. Not fluffy. Not frosting like. Weird funky taste. Looks strangely translucent. ICK.

BUT, their box mixes and box frostings are awesome. Stick to the boxed stuff and you can’t go wrong.

I thought about doing all kinds of extra things to the cake but seriously, yellow cake is pretty perfect by itself. I even considered making a caramel sauce to drizzle on the cake but the yellow cake is already so caramelly, I thought it would be overkill. And with the chocolate frosting? Well, I honestly doubt that you’ll be able to eat a second helping of this without going into a sugar …… comma ….

<1 hour later>

……what?

Wait!

How long have I been out?

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